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Posts Tagged ‘spirit’

Becoming Still (Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In Inner Work, Peace, Relationship with Self, Spiritual Practice, World Work on January 4, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Let’s just say it’s not at the top of my agenda most days, which is why at Christmas I usually choose to make a retreat.

Chances are, if I had a regular sitting meditation practice, I wouldn’t need to take such drastic measures: booking the retreat, explaining to friends and business associates why I won’t be at their Christmas parties again this year, taking a bus to the ferry, the ferry to Vancouver Island, and a taxi to the retreat centre.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is living in my own skin for four days without the distractions I keep saying I want to escape.

Once they are nowhere to be found, distractions seem like a mighty good idea.

Who wants to face one’s failures and shortcomings? Who wants to face one’s loneliness and cravings?

And who the hell wants to listen to what goes on inside my head?

I sure don’t. And yet that’s exactly what I am faced with in the early stages of any retreat I make. To a certain extent, that’s the whole purpose. The aim is to get beyond the “monkey mind.” My fear is always that it’s nothing but monkeys as far as the mind can see. Experience has taught me that I can get beyond them, but not without going through a considerable amount of chatter.

So far, I haven’t found any short cuts.

I was trained in the retreat process by Sufis. Once—sometimes two or three times—a year, I would drive to a small centre in southern New Hampshire and sit in a tiny hut from three to fourteen days of silence. My guide would give me various spiritual practices when she came to sit with me each morning. And in the evening, she would leave a hot meal outside my door.

The retreat process is analogous to alchemy, the practice of turning lead into gold. Unhappily, it involves a lot of burning, melting and putrefaction along the way.

Not everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact I was sure I had gone stark raving mad my first time out. And I had. That was what I needed to get through before I could find anything akin to peace of mind.

This is the point at which many say the real retreat begins.

Not for me. My retreat starts shortly after I make the intention and finalize the travel plans. I’m eager, and then resistance sets in. I’m suddenly convinced that this is not the right time. My business needs attention. What about Christmas cards? You might meet someone important at one of those parties, you know. They’re going to stop inviting you if you keep refusing.

Then I encounter everything in my life that is out of whack—a sneak preview of what I will be alone with at the outset. The theme. Then I stay up late the night before I leave, trying to get everything done. (O! Human Folly!) Then I’m up in the morning, drinking coffee, then running for the bus, having forgotten to bring along the phone number of the cab company in Nanaimo. But I get there—somehow I always get there—and I begin to settle in.

It’s lovely at first. I usually start out with a nap. And then a long walk or some basic practices before the first meal break. It’s as if my mind wants to let me believe it’s going to behave itself this time and not interrupt the proceedings. Ha! Just another ploy, so it can jump out and get me when I’m not looking. I’m much easier with it than I was when I started. The mind does what it does—distracts, bedevils, tells itself bad stories, worries, and comes up with great ideas like smoking a cigar or sneaking out for ice cream. It’s a wild ride until the mind is also brought in line with the breath and the heart. And it always takes time.

Whether I intend it or not, an examination of conscience begins. Years ago, one of my Sufi guides gave me a short form—three questions. Where am I not right with myself? Where am I not right with others? And where am I not right with God? “Right” here is used in the sense of right relationship, not right vs. wrong. No matter how much experience I have with this, it’s always agonizing—and humbling. An act of radical acceptance. And essential if I am to gain any peace at all.

Peace begins with glimmers—something I read, perhaps, or after I weep. On a walk. Sitting on a stone above the lake. The silence itself is what brings it about. That’s what I’ve come here to find.

Peace is like a pulse that gets stronger as fear and resentment and worry loosen their grip.

And I remember the verse from the 46th Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.”

On Christmas Eve, I step outside and watch the moon growing fuller. I’m aware of waiting in a vast silence, the way that I imagine Mary waited to give birth to something beyond all comprehension.

And as I stand there, looking up, there is nothing more to think or plan. In that moment, all the words fall away, and I am surrounded by blessing.

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Eldership Circles (reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In communities, Realtionship, World Work on January 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

As supportive as her women’s group has been over the years, Vicki McLeod felt a need to extend her personal work into her professional life—and beyond. She also noticed that many of her colleagues and clients “were doing everything their MBAs taught them and the consultants told them, and it still wasn’t happening—things weren’t changing. Something else was needed.”

So McLeod, a local communications consultant and coach, started an Eldership Circle.

“I realized that if I was going to hold a space for change, I needed a place where I could do my inner work and be fully supported to take it out into the world. So I decided to put out a call.”

The group’s purpose is to create a space where women can help each other in “overcoming personal barriers and prejudices, [creating] conscious awareness of rank and privilege, and resolving inner conflict—all necessary to … heal our communities.” The circle is meant to go beyond personal growth and always points to service. It’s a place where personal development and social consciousness meet.

“To want to change the world is scary. One is subject to doubt and maybe even ridicule. So the Eldership Circle helps people to explore their own edges, get clarity about goals and purpose and hold space for the collective mind to emerge. There’s magic in a circle.”

And who answered the call?

Women who were “willing to stand in wisdom and fierceness to facilitate change,” says McLeod. Women in search of role models and mentorship. “Kick-ass, loving women,” as one member of the circle puts it, intent on charting new territory.

“Spiritual warriors,” says another.

“It’s hard work,” says McLeod, “particularly in dealing with system conflicts. And yet conflict is very often at the core of deep change and can offer incredible wisdom.”

What the women in the Eldership Circle seek and find in each other is, in the words of a third member, “Authenticity, friendship. Laughter. Joy. Connection. A group that will hold me to my highest self when the road gets rocky and bring me back to [my purpose] if I get lost in the mud.”

“Eldership is really about looking at transformational change through the lens of how it can impact the greater whole,” says McLeod.

“Elders ask: what does this mean for the world? If I’m suddenly afraid to speak in front of the group—that is a process for me. It may be present in the group, and it may be present in the World. We are all afraid to speak. How, then, might my crossing that edge make it possible for the World to cross that edge too?”

What is the difference between leaders and elders?

The way McLeod sees it, “leadership is often about having followers. Leaders set a direction.” Elders, on the other hand, “have faith that a direction will emerge.”

It sounds a bit like walking in the dark.

“It’s a lot like that,” says Vicki, laughing.

What, then, would be the most useful relationship between leaders and elders?

“Ideally” says McLeod, “leaders would access the wisdom of elders and eventually become elders themselves.”

This means that elders must be present and in conversation with leaders, which is not always the case today. In fact, some maintain that elders have disappeared over the last few decades into retirement communities and assisted living facilities. We do not have much access to elders. McLeod says that eldership was not really obvious in her world. Both her grandmothers died before she was 20.

“The notion of eldership circles is ancient—the bringing together of the collective wisdom of a group or tribe in service of the greater whole has been around, I would venture, as long as humanity. Certainly, aboriginal cultures consider eldership as a key component of social and community functioning.”

McLeod doesn’t want the circle to be seen as an exclusive enclave for professional women. She wants Eldership Circles to be open to anyone who feels called.

“I would love to see more circles grow, more individuals stepping into Eldership and offering their wisdom to the world. I would especially love to see men’s circles get started—or mixed circles. One of the principles of eldership is embracing diversity.

“I started my circle where I am—a middle-aged, middle-class white woman. So my circle is largely composed of the same.

“My intention for Eldership Circles is very clear. There are no fees for them, and anyone is free to create a circle and use the resources on my website to get started. While this is part of my life’s work, it is not the way I make my living. It is a contribution I want to make to the world, and then I hope that the circles will grow and become self-sustaining and self-spawning.

“It really has nothing to do with me.”

For more information about Vicki McLeod and the Eldership Circles, visit her website:

http://www.vickimcleod.com/world-work/eldership

“Zeitgeist and the Berlin Wall” (Reprinted from The Vancouver Observer)

In communities, International Relations, Peace, Realtionship, TimeSpirits, World Work on November 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I’m aware of not only the spirit of that time, but also a difficult-to-name energy at work around last month’s announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Zeitgeist is usually translated as the intellectual, ethical or political climate of a nation, the “mood of an era.” It is, quite literally, TimeSpirit, and I write the word in the same way that physicist and Jungian analyst Arnold Mindell does when he talks about a felt but invisible force having an impact on how we think and relate to one another. When I work in organizations or with couples, I sometimes feel the TimeSpirits of Racism or Homophobia, as well as the TimeSpirit of last year’s economic meltdown.

Twenty years ago, I followed the events in Berlin with a sense of excitement and dread. On the one hand, I was full a wild hope; on the other, the fear of a massacre along the lines of Tiananmen Square five months earlier. What prevented Berlin from becoming a bloodbath? Nobody knows, exactly. There may have even been something about Tiananmen Square that actually shifted the world’s awareness. But there was something different about the TimeSpirit in Berlin, which I believe helped to shape the final result. Many events led up to November 9, 1989—Hungary opening its border to Austria; East Germans flooding the West German embassy, refusing to return to the East; Erich Honecker’s resignation. And what some observers feel really made it possible: a mass demonstration in Leipzig a month earlier, which in turn was made possible by the Montagsdemonstrationen, or “Monday demonstrations” that preceded them.

Police, and the troops that were later called in, could have opened fire on the demonstrators. According to some reports, they were ordered to do so. But they did not. Why? What had shifted? One remembers the plea of Chinese students to the soldiers: Don’t shoot! Join us; we are your brothers and sisters! It wasn’t enough to turn the tide. And yet, five months later, halfway round the globe in Leipzig, when 70,000 protesters began to chant, “Wir sind das Volk!”“We are the people!”—something was different. And a month later, at the Berlin Wall, whatever the political, economic, and social factors at play, a TimeSpirit seemed to dictate that this would not end in the same way as Tiananmen Square.

Writer and medical intuitive Caroline Myss maintains that people in Eastern Europe simply decided to divest themselves of Communism. It was a shift in thought, in consciousness. And because there were enough of them doing it at the same time, nothing much else was needed to accomplish it. Zeitgeist. A sea-change. Something that, in the end, cannot be explained in any of the usual ways.

Last November, American voters elected the first black president in their history. Like the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, it was one of those things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. As I watched President Obama being sworn into office in January, I was filled with the same kind of uneasy wonder I’d felt watching the Berlin Wall come down. Against all odds, beyond all the reasons given by political pundits, the inconceivable had actually happened.

Last month, when the Nobel Committee announced President Obama as the recipient of the Peace Prize, there was a kind of stunned silence at first, then criticism of the Committee’s decision because Obama had not “proven himself.” Again, I felt the presence of a TimeSpirit—something larger than political events or one man’s personality and charisma. Something that included people’s renewed sense of possibility and the ability to imagine an entirely different kind of future. Something far beyond political rhetoric: zeitgeist. As if the Nobel Committee were honouring not the man, but all that he has come to embody in this moment.

Obama, himself surprised, said, “I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.” Aspirations held by people in all nations. Zeitgeist.

Not one man or one woman, one event, or one single turning point, but a gathering of consciousness, a TimeSpirit that when heard and headed is what can make all the difference in the world. And my hunch is that more than one person on the Nobel Prize Committee is aware of that.

It’s certainly what those gathered 20 years ago at the Berlin Wall found out.

What we talk about when we talk about relationship ….

In Realtionship on July 25, 2009 at 5:19 am

We all know that “Are you in a relationship?” means “Are you—dating? Living with someone?” For most of us the word brings to mind our nearest and dearest—spouses, friends, and family. For some, the word refers exclusively to the person with whom they share a bed and a mortgage. Relationship suggests intimacy. It can be a tender subject.

Relationship simply is. It infuses every conversation, is, in fact, the ground of the conversation itself if not the subject. It’s the context, the air we breathe, the water we swim in. We are never not in relationship. Which is why it’s so easy to overlook. We often take it for granted, and only become aware of relationship in its extreme states: its highs or lows. In fact, to suggest reflecting upon relationship seems to suggest that something is wrong. Our motto tends to be “if it aint broke, don’t fix it.” And so we tread softly, avoid conflict, settle for less, all the while building resentments—until the relationship itself demands attention.

Not a bad thing, just what tends to happen. At least in my life.

My purpose here is twofold. I want to open a wide-ranging conversation about relationship, using the word in its primary and broadest definition: “the state of being related or interrelated.” Couples, families, friends, business partners, corporate teams, organizations, communities. Relationship to work, play, the body, Spirit …. Relationship in all its various forms.

I also want to stay curious about relationship itself—that thing that is bigger than the sum of its parts. That “state of affairs,” as Webster puts it, “existing between those having relations or dealings [italics mine].” I have come to think of relationship as a living being, conscious in and of itself, and capable of learning. To many of you this is not a new concept, but to me it was baffling at first. And yet I had a sense in my own bones that this was true.

As my colleagues at the Center for Right Relationship are fond of saying: relationships are naturally generative. Get two or more people together in a room and something happens—small talk, laughter, shared interests, fights, babies, book deals … you name it.

Here are a couple of questions to consider. Think of a relationship you’re in and notice what is getting generated. What would you like that relationship to generate more of and how you might help it to do that?